How to Use User-Generated Content for Small Business Marketing

A shoemaker in an apron with a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images

Running out of ideas? Sometimes it’s okay to sit back, relax, and let your audience do the work through these five user-generated content creation methods.

Are you struggling to come up with original content? Are your company social media accounts not connecting with the audience? Don’t worry! Social media marketing isn’t a “one man for the job” type of field.

Coming up with the best ideas and executing the best plans always requires a group effort, so what if I told you that your business might be leaving a huge group of people out of your content creation strategy?

That’s right, chances are if you’re struggling to come up with new content ideas, this means you aren’t using your own audience to its full potential.

Sometimes your best resource for new content isn’t another brainstorming session with your marketing team, it’s your audience and the user-generated content they can provide.

Overview: What is user-generated content (UGC)?

User-generated content is material created by those who use a specific outlet, product, service, or platform, rather than content created by the outlet itself. This content encompasses all kinds of submissions from videos to social media posts.

Photo of dog about to drink water in the countryside

Apple uses its customer’s photos as proof that their cameras are the best you can get in a smartphone. Image source: Author

The internet is a treasure trove of incredible content. Not all of it is created by large brands and companies. Some of the most notable internet memes and trends weren’t created by marketing teams and focus groups.

They were created by individuals using platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to express their talents, humor, and viewpoints.

These creators are the best examples of user-generated content marketing. They’re living proof that sometimes, brands just need to give their audience the opportunity to express themselves rather than run all of their content through a committee.

UGC marketing vs. traditional marketing: What’s the difference?

UGC marketing puts the onus on your followers and customers to create content and build buzz for you through prompting and incentivizing.

Unlike traditional marketing, which requires you and your marketing team to develop the content on your blogs, social media advertisements, and organic social channels, user-submitted content is organically crowdsourced from those who follow your brand.

UGC marketing also eliminates the “artificiality” of brand marketing and instead gives your brand a more “human” element since it’s all based around the target market interested in your product or service.

How to use user-generated content for your small business marketing

There are limitless ways to use user-generated content for your business, from contests to walking around the streets with a smartphone to live-stream people’s opinions about your brand. Well, that latter option might not be as effective as other methods.

I’ve put together a list of the five most popular and effective ways to curate and take advantage of user-generated content.

Method 1: Social media hashtags

Starting your own hashtag for your brand and identity is one of the easiest ways to curate user-generated content.

Social media is a powerful tool that opens the door to millions of customers, and the right social media strategy coupled with a memorable hashtag is a relatively low-effort/high-reward proposition.

The idea is simple: Create a hashtag centered around a promotion, popular trend, or just your business in general, and then push your followers to post using that hashtag. This is best achieved through incentives, such as reposts, retweets, contests, and responses.

You don’t have to create any of the content because your followers will gladly do it for you while simultaneously creating more brand awareness. It’s the simplest way to utilize user-generated content through social media that I’ve ever used.

Method 2: Reviews

I always look at reviews to confirm the quality of a product or service I’m considering. I want to know that someone, other than the seller, had a positive experience with this product or service, and I’m not alone.

Think to yourself: When was the last time you purchased something from Amazon before reading any of the reviews, or at least checking the rating?

Over 91% of people regularly read online reviews, and 84% trust those online reviews as much as they would value a personal recommendation, according to Those are staggering numbers.

This opens the door for valuable user-generated content that can convince buyers better than any advertisement. You can harness this powerful content by encouraging your customers to write reviews of your product through incentives such as gift card giveaways and discounts on future purchases.

This even goes for negative reviews. Occasional negative reviews give a certain human element to your product since it’s obviously impossible to please everyone.

You don’t want it to appear that your reviews are artificial, so whatever you do, don’t hide your negative reviews, and don’t try to bury them with fake reviews that bump up your overall ratings. Instead, use those negative reviews as learning experiences to improve whatever you offer.

Method 3: Expert interviews and Q&As

Interviewing experts in your field or market is an easy way to generate content, build on your own industry knowledge, and even educate your audience/customers to boot.

This type of UGC is almost a hybrid since it does require you to post the content yourself, but the meat and potatoes of it are provided by the person you are interviewing. All you have to do is either create a video of your interview, record your interview as part of a podcast, write up a transcript of your interview, or combine all three.

Make sure the expert you interview is someone your audience will find interesting and will ultimately respect. Misstepping and choosing the wrong “expert” can backfire as it opens you up to criticism and more negative attention than your brand is looking for.

Method 4: Use cases

This type of user-generated media is a step up from the standard customer review because it gives your audience a tangible example of your product or service. You’re inviting your followers and customers to tell their own stories of how your brand helped them, entertained them, or inspired them.

These use cases can come in many forms, but typically, the most popular are written blog posts and videos. You can even turn this user-generated content into a contest that’ll select winners based on the creativity or overall audience interest in their use case.

Just like reviews, use cases seem authentic to your audience, unlike a canned advertisement you’d see from any other brand in your market.

Method 5: Survey your customers

This is another example of a hybrid between customer-generated content and traditional marketing since you’ll rely on user-generated responses to fill in your own controlled marketing efforts.

Customer surveys open the door for content tailored to fit your own parameters. Looking for a specific statistic? Customer surveys are the answer. The hard numbers provided by these surveys are the perfect way to encapsulate how your customer base feels as a whole. Translating those feelings to your market through response numbers and unique written responses is a great way to build consumer trust with your brand.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  • Controlled survey: This is the more traditional way of surveying your customers, and it will provide you with more accurate data since it relies on controlled factors. However, this method will require you to market this information yourself once you’re done with your surveys.
  • Social media survey: This is the more UGC-related version of customer surveys. While the responses you receive may not accurately reflect the sentiments of all your customers, social media surveys give you the chance to engage with your customers in a public setting. This is a very easy way to increase your engagement and even gather additional user-generated content through public comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Whichever method you choose, user-generated content will allow you to paint a portrait of enthusiasm (or concern) for your brand depending on your wishes and goals.

Examples of brands using user-generated content (UGC) for their marketing

Now that you have a better understanding of some of the more popular methods for using user-generated content, here are two examples of these methods being used out in the wild.

1. Wendy’s: Free nuggets for a year

When I think of brilliant user-generated content, the first brand that comes to mind is Wendy’s. Whoever is running the company’s Twitter account is the king of clever and the sultan of snark.

The responsive nature and witty banter of this person (or team) have earned Wendy’s tons of publicity through millions of likes and retweets (they really know how to supercharge their social media metrics).

Back in 2017, Wendy’s actually responded to a teenager who asked the brand on Twitter how many retweets it would take for him to receive free nuggets for a whole year. While most brands would ignore tweets like these, Wendy’s stepped up to the plate and delivered a response:

Tweet to Wendy's by Carter Wilkerson

I need Carter Wilderson’s confidence. Image source: Author

What’s even better is that Wendy’s delivered on its promise once the teen reached the 18 million retweets.

Not only did this teenager get the nuggets he was promised (and earned the nickname “the chicken nugget man” at his high school), but Wendy’s also earned tons of publicity through this stunt on social media and in the news.

The moral of the story is, sometimes it’s beneficial to respond to even the most ridiculous messages, comments, and tweets.

2. Coca-Cola: #ShareACoke

Remember Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” social media campaign? I only vaguely remembered this user-generated content campaign by America’s most popular soft drink company until I wrote this piece. When I looked into the numbers, it turns out this campaign was a huge success.

Coca-cola advertisement with first name branded bottles

I won’t lie, I remember buying a few bottles with my name on them back in the day. Image source: Author

The idea was simple. Coca-Cola encouraged consumers to buy bottles of Coke with their names on it and also share bottles with the names of others that they knew — from friends to family members, to the nice lady with 13 dogs down the street.

The hashtag #shareacoke rose to the No. 1 trending topic around the globe and even boosted Coke consumption from 1.7 billion to 1.9 billion per day.

That’s incredible, and all it took was a little personalization in Coca-Cola’s brand positioning and a loyal consumer base willing to share their experiences with the product on social media.

The Ascent has you covered

Now that you have a thorough understanding of user-generated content, try working some of these efforts into your social media content calendar next quarter. You’ll be surprised what a little engagement with your customers will do for your business.

If you’re looking for additional guidance with your social media strategy, you’ve come to the right place. At The Ascent, we’re here to help you build a social media machine that’ll build buzz and convert worthwhile leads into paying customers through our detailed social media management software reviews, beginner’s guides, and how-to articles. Be sure to check back often for new helpful content.